13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective – Deep Red

On today’s installment of the Retrospective, Tom and Jenny are discussing the classic 1975 giallo directed by Dario Argento, Deep Red, otherwise known as Profondo Rosso.

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THANK YOU TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS! The show is made possible by: Kool Kitty, Oli, Justin, John, Sean, Jason, Scarlett, Nathalie, Jake, Jen, Victoria, Lana, Duncan, Thomm, Matthew, Liam, John, Joseph, Dan, Rob, Melanie, Eric, Brandon, Mike, Richard, Valtrina, Tara, Sandra, Paul, Jonathan, Weaponsandstuff93, Michael, Ben, Anthony, Via, Denise, Ima Shrew, James, Matt, Mary Ellen, Jamin, Joanie, Arif, Natalia, Samantha, Ashley, Kieron, Sophie, Tara, Jana & Scott, Ed, creepy crepes, Christopher, Elizabeth, Tina, Lars, Ed, Feeky, Veronica, Corinthian, Daniel, Dean, Greg, Lindsey, Richard & Sheena, and KnotHead Studios.

13 O’Clock is hosted by Jenny Ashford & Tom Ross.

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13 O’Clock Episode 34 – An Appreciation of the Giallo

A masked, black-gloved killer stalks the streets of Rome, hacking away at underdressed ladies with a flashing, phallic blade. A hapless tourist witnesses one of these murders, but is brushed off by the police, and is forced to try to reveal the killer on her own, before she becomes the next victim.

If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the most common story arc of the classic Italian thriller/horror genre, the giallo. This distinctive film style has many fascinating aesthetic and narrative flourishes, and is largely responsible for kicking off the American slasher film boom of the 1970s and 1980s. On this episode, Tom and Jenny discuss one of Jenny’s very favorite film styles, giving a history of the genre, a breakdown of the most commonly seen tropes, and opinions about the best giallo films. Sharpen your straight razor and shrug into your black trenchcoat as we take a deep red journey into the lurid, murderous world of the giallo. Bring in the perverts!

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Once We Used to Eat Our Enemies: An Appreciation of “The Bloodstained Shadow” and “The Perfume of the Lady In Black”

Holy shit, you guys, I just realized that the last time I posted one of my long-form horror movie breakdowns was back in goddamn NOVEMBER (it was an appreciation of the British made-for-TV classic Ghostwatch, if you’re interested), so I felt the need to remedy that situation with a quickness. The reason I haven’t posted as many is because I’ve been working on the weekly 13 O’Clock podcast as well as finishing up my new book, The Unseen Hand, which I’m happy to announce is now available in print and ebook formats, with the audio version coming very soon!

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Anyway, I’ve got a double dose of giallo goodness for you today, since I’ve been researching an upcoming podcast episode on giallo films and have been spending some time revisiting some old favorites as well as watching some lesser-known examples of the genre. First in the lineup is The Bloodstained Shadow from 1978, known in Italy as Solamente nero and also released under the title Only Blackness. Directed by Antonio Bido and featuring Stefania Casini (of Suspiria fame) in a prominent role, this one didn’t knock me out with awesomeness, but it was still an enjoyable, if fairly derivative, slice of bloody giallo fun.

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In many ways, The Bloodstained Shadow, with its focus on the church, its use of a strange painting as one of the key plot points, and the appearance of Lino Capolicchio playing a protagonist named Stefano recalls Pupi Avati’s fantastic House with the Laughing Windows (which I wrote about here). Its Venetian locations and the featuring of a creepy psychic also give it a passing whiff of Nicolas Roeg’s classic Don’t Look Now (which I wrote about here).

In brief, Stefano travels to the Venetian island of Murano to visit his brother, a Catholic priest named Don Paolo. Almost as soon as he arrives, he discovers that something odd is afoot; the aforementioned psychic seems to creep his brother out for some reason, a wealthy pedophile is molesting children left and right, and Stefano starts having flashbacks of a screaming little boy that seems to be somehow tied in with the murder of a schoolgirl that took place on the island years before.

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There is also the matter of a murder in the town square that Don Paolo witnesses; the victim turns out to be the psychic, whose séances were notorious for attracting all of the town’s most reviled residents and who Don Paolo had actively campaigned against. Don Paolo begins receiving threatening, typewritten messages, presumably from the killer, and Stefano teams up with his brother and his new lady-friend to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

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As I said, this one wasn’t super memorable, but it was a satisfying, workmanlike giallo that hit all the correct beats. There were lots of plot twists, some gory murders, and several red herrings to lead viewers in the wrong direction (though I have to admit I figured out who the killer was before the end). Recommended for fans of the genre who haven‘t seen it, but for neophytes I’d suggest House with the Laughing Windows before this one.

Next up is the 1974 Francesco Barilli film, The Perfume of the Lady in Black, starring Mimsy Farmer. I hesitate to even call this movie a giallo; a couple of the elements are there, and it’s usually listed as one, but to be honest it’s more a straight-up psychological horror film, obviously very heavily influenced by Roman Polanski, particularly Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. The movie as a whole is intensely dreamlike, and even after watching it, you’re really not sure how much of what you saw unfolding on screen actually took place and how much was the fantasy of the main character.

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In fact, if you come into Perfume expecting the requisite steady murder count of the standard giallo, then you’re going to be disappointed; there are almost no deaths and no gore until the end, and even the bizarre final scenes leave more questions than answers. This film is much more like the creepy slow burn of a good ghost story, or like the unsettling, atmospheric weirdness of Polanski’s The Tenant: nothing is as it seems, everyone seems shifty and sinister and out to get the protagonist for some reason, and the movie goes on quite a long time without really revealing what the hell is going on and why all these strange things are happening.

Mimsy Farmer plays Silvia, a chemist whose dedication to her work causes tension with her jackwad boyfriend Roberto (Maurizio Bonuglia), who doesn’t understand why Silvia can’t just blow off her job to go play tennis with him and who wiggles his ass in the most disturbing way when he has sex with her. After an argument, Silvia seeks to make amends by bringing Roberto a present of a mounted butterfly (which he collects), but when she gets to his house, it looks like he isn’t there, and she sees what seems to be the ghost of a woman in a black and white dress in a mirror in Roberto’s bedroom.

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From here on out, the viewer is taken on a strange ride, as weird shit starts happening all around Silvia: people on the street eye her suspiciously, she sleeps through an entire day without knowing why, a tennis racket she grabs has a nail in the handle that slices her palm and her tennis partner drinks the blood from it with a bit too much enjoyment, a treasured photo she takes to have reframed mysteriously gets stolen, a bratty little girl in a white dress turns up in her apartment and refuses to leave.

As the movie goes on, the strange events escalate, and we’re led to believe that Silvia has become the target of a vast, black magic conspiracy that seemingly includes everyone she knows, including her boyfriend, her best friend Francesca, and everyone in her building, and appears to be engineered by a mysterious African professor who is friends with Roberto. Are all these people trying to drive Silvia mad? If so, why? Or is she simply losing her mind of her own accord? Flashbacks of her possible past may provide the solution, but it’s still far from straightforward how much of the plot takes place in Silvia’s imagination; in this aspect, the many references in the film to Alice In Wonderland make total sense.

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I actually really dug this one, though as I said, don’t go into it expecting a textbook giallo, because it really doesn’t have many giallo elements at all, other than the mystery angle. It’s also pretty slow-moving, which I quite liked, but I can see how the pace might be too leisurely for some. I think it did a great job of building tension slowly, of unraveling Silvia’s sanity at a measured, surreal pace, and it had some really great, eerie moments and unsettling shots that were pleasingly disorienting. Recommended less for giallo fans and more for Polanski aficionados and those who like their horror with a sense of subtle unease.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

We All Mask Our Desperation As Best We Can: An Appreciation of “The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail”

Buonasera, spaghetti horror aficionados! We’re delving back into the giallo pot for today’s delectable serving, so tie on your bib and chow down!

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The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (La Coda dello Scorpione, 1971) was the second giallo film directed by Sergio Martino, who also helmed one of my previously featured films, All the Colors of the Dark. Scorpion’s Tail isn’t quite as groovy and fun as Colors, but it’s still a tightly plotted and entertaining little thriller with some nice cinematography, a script with lots of surprising twists and turns, and some satisfyingly bloody kills.

At the beginning of the movie, we’re introduced to beautiful blonde Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart), two-timing wife of jet-setting rich dude Kurt Baumer. While Lisa is busily banging her scruffy side-piece, she receives a phone call that informs her that her presumably Lego-sized husband has tragically perished in the explosion of his teeny toy plane (you’ll know what I mean when you see the effect, you guys). Into the phone, she’s all, “Yeah, I know all about thaaaaa…I mean, oh man, that’s a damn shame. I loved that guy more than life itself, yes indeedy.” Helping her through her terrible grief is the fact that poor ‘sploded Kurt had an insurance policy that will make Lisa a million dollars richer; all she has to do is fly to Athens, Greece to pick up the check, and cha-ching: baby you’re a rich man.

Since insurance companies are generally no chumps, they suspect that maaaaybe Lisa had something to do with the plastic plane explosion that shuffled off Kurt’s mortal coil, so they hire insurance investigator and rakishly suave motherfucker Peter Lynch (George Hilton) to follow Lisa’s tight ass around and measure the exact proportion of fatale to her femme.

Lisa groks to his game right away, but she’s got bigger problems than him to deal with, because it turns out that Kurt’s ogre-faced mistress Lara (Janine Reynaud) and her lawyer/one-man brute squad Sharif (Luis Barboo) want to get their hands on some of Kurt’s sweet death-cash as well, and try to kill the conniving Lisa after she refuses to buckle under their (admittedly pretty lame) threats of blackmail.

Planning on getting her money as quickly as possible and getting the fuck out of Dodge, Lisa cashes her million-dollar check and makes arrangements to meet current homme de commodité Scruffy D. Adulterer in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the security at her hotel isn’t quite up to snuff, and she is summarily sliced into ribbons and relieved of her ill-gotten gains before she can even finish stowing her slain-spouse money-bundles into her fetching carry-on valise.

There then follows your standard giallo murder mystery, replete with world-weary, shit-talking investigators, a budding love story between two of the characters involved in the case, and a whole fisherman’s platter of red herrings. People who are suspected of some of the murders start to turn up dead themselves, and it becomes very clear that whatever it is that’s going on, it’s far more complicated than it seemed at first blush. Who is bumping off all these seemingly unrelated people? Is it the sketchy Interpol officer with the mysteriously injured hand? How about Lisa’s heroin-shootin’ and Mac Davis-resemblin’ ex-boyfriend? Did Kurt Baumer fake his own death to collect on his own insurance policy? Or is something even more convoluted and sinister going on? And why on earth do female characters in every single one of these movies insist on standing there and helplessly staring at the door while a murderer is busting it down? Honestly, ladies, you can run away; just because some dude goes to the trouble of breaking into your house doesn’t give you some kind of social obligation to allow him to stab you. You’re welcome for that tidbit of advice, by the way.

All in all, this was a serviceable giallo with enough plot curveballs to keep you guessing, and though I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that this film features an enjoyable subversion of some of the most common tropes of the genre vis-a-vis the resolution of the mystery. There’s also some added spice in the form of a fairly graphic eye gouging and the frequent appearance of two of Anita Strindberg’s boisterously bouncing…acting chops. Enjoy with a cappuccino and a nice biscotti, and call me in the morning.

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Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Even Those Representing God Must Rely on Advertising: An Appreciation of “Seven Blood Stained Orchids”

It’s a stormy Saturday afternoon here in central Florida, and as I often like to do on wet weekends such as these, I decided to while away a couple of hours with a strangely comforting European cult flick from the 1970s and then tell the internet how I felt about it, whether the internet wants to hear it or not. Did I mention I’m back on the giallo kick? No? Okay, consider it mentioned.

Anyway, I’ve obviously written about a few gialli before, and the funny thing about the genre is that you don’t have to see too many of them before you start getting into what I call “endless giallo recursion,” or alternately, “The Giallo Small World Hypothesis.” To wit, the movie we’re discussing today is another one with bloody flowers prominent in the title and the plot (just like the subject of my older post, The Case of the Bloody Iris), and another one featuring Marina Malfatti (who was also in a couple of other gialli I wrote about, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and All the Colors of the Dark), albeit in a fairly small role.

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Seven Blood Stained Orchids (Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso) was released in 1972 and was the last of a series of four Italian/German co-productions (fun fact: in Germany, the equivalent of gialli is “Krimi”) based upon the works of prolific British crime writer Edgar Wallace. It was directed by Umberto Lenzi, probably most infamous (at least in the U.S. and U.K.) as the director of a couple of the most notorious “video nasties,” Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox. Now, before you go getting any ideas, Seven Blood Stained Orchids is pretty much a textbook giallo and has very little in common with Lenzi’s gore films; in fact, the violence here is exceptionally tame, with the bloodiest scene probably being a relatively mild murder with a whirring drill (and you know you’re a horror junkie when a grisly drill-through-the-heart scene barely raises an interested eyebrow). So whether that makes you more or less likely to want to watch it is entirely up to you.

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NEEDS MOAR NEEDLES TAPED UNDER EYEBALLS.

 

As I said, this movie ticks pretty much all the blood-spattered little giallo boxes: there’s a black-gloved killer stalking and killing scantily-clothed women with a knife, there’s a strange calling card left at the murder scenes (in this case, an occult-looking silver half-moon pendant), there is an investigation undertaken by one of the target victims when police prove less than useful, and there is the standard parade of shifty motherfuckers who drift through the story and serve as red herrings until the mystery slowly becomes resolved. Could the killer be the enigmatic old man babbling in German in the cemetery? The heroin-shooting Jimi Hendrix fan who does nothing but host open-door naked orgy parties at his zebra-print hippie pad? Or perhaps it’s his blouse-wearing boyfriend, who is a dead ringer for Rufus Wainwright? Or how about that hard-faced old battle-axe in the lunatic asylum who gives one of the potential victims a whole faceful of stinkeye and keeps a thermometer under her chair cushion, the way you do?

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“I DON’T CARE WHO IT IS, AS LONG AS THE STAB WOUNDS DON’T MAR MY CHESTICULAR PERKINESS.”

 

Briefly, the main plot revolves around a woman named Giulia (Uschi Glas) and her new husband, fashion designer and bossy-boots Mario (Antonio Sabato), as they attempt to get to the bottom of a mysterious series of killings, linked by the aforementioned half-moon pendant. After the murder of a prostitute (Lina Franchi) and an artist (Marina Malfatti), Giulia is targeted for death while she is on a train with Mario, heading toward their honeymoon destination. She survives, but because the killer beat cheeks before checking to make sure she was dead (rookie mistake), the police stage a mock funeral for her and keep her in hiding while they try to draw the murderer out. One of the repeated motifs of the film, though, is the general ineffectiveness of the cops, as they time and again fail to protect the marked women, even after Giulia and Mario have figured out the tenuous connection between the victims and helpfully provided a list of who is likely to meet the killer’s knife next. So fuck the police, the movie seems to be saying, since they apparently can’t manage to catch a cold even when all the legwork is done for them.

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“YEAH, THEY’RE STANDING RIGHT HERE…YEAH, THEY JUST ASKED ME TO WIPE THEIR ASSES FOR THEM TOO.”

 

During the course of the film, we learn a great number of interesting facts. Among these are that serial killers become infinitely less sympathetic when they stoop to poisoning a bunch of kittens; that “The American Hospital” actually refers to the name of a medical facility in Rome and is not an admission that the Italians think there is only a single hospital on the entire American continent; that confessional booths in Catholic churches really need a better security detail; that a drugged-up sex soiree can’t be complete without poorly-applied body paint and a poster of Marilyn Monroe somewhere in the mix; and that not wearing a kicky purple scarf with your mod ensemble will make everyone think you’re a straight-up hooker who deserves to be bludgeoned to death in a cornfield.

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All in all, this was a fairly solid example of the genre, not mind-blowingly awesome, but quite enjoyable, well-paced, and rather elegantly shot. The central plot device of the authority figures in the movie being powerless to protect the victims added a nice little undercurrent of dread to the entire affair. While the reveal of the killer was something of a surprise, the untangling of the murderer’s motive was not as splashy or madness-fueled as in other examples of the genre, so it frankly fell a little flat for me, since I’m more into the excesses of Argento. But I would still recommend this to giallo fans as a decent, middle-of-the-road entry into the annals of Italian crime thrillers.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Strange Men Have Been Following Women Since the Stone Age: An Appreciation of “All the Colors of the Dark”

Welcome back to our regularly scheduled programming, horror hounds. We’re traveling back to Italy for this one, and back to the giallo genre; we’re also revisiting some familiar faces from previous blog posts, because today’s movie features Edwige Fenech and George Hilton (from The Case of the Bloody Iris), as well as Marina Malfatti (who starred in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave). So, without further delay, let’s jump right into the psychedelic cauldron of Satan, shall we?

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All the Colors of the Dark (Tutti i colori del buio, 1972) was an Italian/Spanish co-production, but set in London, and directed by Sergio Martino. It’s essentially a groovier, less satirical, and WAY more surreal take on Rosemary’s Baby, with similar themes of black magic, ambiguous reality, and crushing paranoia.

Beautiful but mentally fragile protagonist Jane has been going through some shit; not only was her mother murdered when she was five years old, but a year before the events of the film, she was in a car accident in which she suffered a miscarriage. Her boyfriend, pharmaceutical rep and raging jackwad Richard, was driving the car, and sorta feels responsible for the whole losing the baby thing, although he still kinda treats Jane like crap anyway. Ever since the tragedy, Jane has been plagued with horrific, Fellini-esque nightmares in which toothless old ladies cackle in close-up and a mysterious man with ice-blue eyes repeatedly stabs women in their beds.

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DAVID LYNCH TO THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE.

In true “Yellow Wallpaper” fashion, Richard has been pooh-poohing Jane’s wishes to see a psychiatrist, insisting she just needs to keep ingesting the weird blue toilet-tablet vitamin concoction he’s giving her to flush away the crazy, since he clearly subscribes to the Tom Cruise School of Psychiatry Is Evil and Scientology Solves All the Things With Vitamins and OT Powers. But since playing with the Ty-D-Bol Man doesn’t seem to be doing her any damn good, Jane finally takes her sister Barbara’s advice and goes to see the psychiatrist Barbara works for, a kindly old man called Dr. Burton. Doc seems more understanding, but her nightmares are not going away, and what’s worse, she’s starting to see the blue-eyed man stalking her in real life, or so it would appear.

Fearing she might be going batshit insane, she finally confides in foxy new neighbor Mary, whose first suggestion, obviously, is for Jane to accompany her to a black magic ritual, which should clear that whole mental illness thing right up, with the well-known healing power of Beelzebub. Jane gives this course of action about ten seconds of thought before going, “Sounds like a plan,” and after a festive afternoon of dog-blood drinking and gang rape, she seems right as rain again.

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BLACK CANDLES AND WHITEFACE: THE CURE FOR WHAT AILS YOU.

 

But not so fast! In a stunning twist, it turns out that demonic cults headed by fey bearded men wearing fabulous gold Lee press-on nails may not actually be conducive to one’s overall well-being! Who’da thought? From here on out, the movie takes on the aspect of a fever dream, as we’re not really sure who we can trust and what is really happening. Is the blue-eyed psycho real or imaginary? Is everyone Jane knows conspiring with the cult to push her off her rocker for good? Has Richard fucked every woman in the immediate vicinity, including Jane’s sister? What’s the over/under on how long it would take to murder a couple of German senior citizens and prop them up at the breakfast table as though they’re still alive? Will Jane ever learn to cook bacon and eggs properly? The surrealistic touches come hard and fast, and the viewer will be left confused and on edge until the very end.

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WAKING UP ON THE LAWN OF A SATANIC MURDER MANSION; WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE.

 

I really dug this one a lot; I loved the psychedelic weirdness and the ambiguity, and it had a really unsettling undertone of claustrophobia, as the world seemed to close in around poor Jane, leaving her with no one to trust. The cinematography was also lovely and strange, if a little heavy on the wacky camera effects. Definitely one of the more unique gialli, and one I’d definitely recommend to fans of Satanic cult movies as well.

That’s all for this installment, so until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.